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In 2023, Salem welcomed a record 1.2 million visitors to the city in the month of October alone. Sure, Witch City is magical in October during the spooky autumn days leading up to Halloween. But for us locals on the North Shore, we recommend an off-season trip over an October one. The town’s winter highlight? The Salem’s So Sweet festival, back this year for its 22nd annual celebration February 9 through 11. 

The festival features ice sculptures, restaurant specials, shopping discounts, and lots and lots of chocolate. The timing is perfect—it’s the weekend before Valentine’s Day. The fest kicks off on Friday with a fundraiser at a private downtown location—the PEM Connect Space—where ticket holders get treats, complimentary wine, and commemorative glasses. And after the fundraiser, the fun continues. Businesses throughout downtown offer shopping specials and late night hours, and ticket holders can find wine tastings and other treats.

Some shops have live music—it’s like a neighborhood-wide party. And throughout the weekend, play the “Chocolate Hearts Challenge” by looking for the Salem So Sweet QR code at participating businesses for a chance to win prizes. You’ll probably get a bit of free chocolate, too. The ice sculptures are back this year, illuminated on both Friday and Saturday nights from 5 to 9 p.m. 

On Friday, find them on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and at Lappin Park and then all throughout downtown on Saturday night. The ice sculptures and shopping discounts are great on their own, but they’re also a jumping-off point to explore the rest of the city. 

Make a night of it with dinner at one of our favorites: Turner’s does seafood in a charming, cozy space, and Ledger serves upscale New England cuisne in a beautiful historic building. Salem Food Tours owner Karen Scalia has also sung the praises of Opus, Finz, and the Flying Saucer Pizza Company. If you really want to explore the town’s culinary scene, you should probably book one of Scalia’s award-winning food tours.

Don’t forget to stop for a drink before or after dinner, too—some of our places for imbibing include East Regiment Beer Company, a down-to-earth taproom that does small batch brews in the basement, and All Souls Lounge, a cozy, no-frills bar with a great vintage cocktail program.

And since Salem So Sweet gives you the perfect staycation excuse, we recommend checking in to one of Salem’s cozy inns or hotels like the Hawthorne Hotel, the Hotel Salem, The Merchant, or the Salem Waterfront Hotel . Don’t forget to stock up on Valentine’s Day chocolate while you’re in town—Salem has an incredible artisan chocolate scene.

We’re partial to Kakawa Chocolate House, known for original concoctions like drinking chocolate elixirs and chocolate-dipped chilis, and the Chocolate Pantry, which is picky about sourcing super-high-quality imported chocolates.

While you’re enjoying all of Salem’s cozy winter vibes, don’t forget that you’re still in Witch City. You can visit the Witch Museum or take a ghost or trolley tour to learn a thing or two about what gives Salem its character. You’ll miss all the crowds and get to eat a bunch of chocolate while you’re at it.

Visit for details, a full sculpture map, along with tickets to Friday night’s event.